Born to an Amsterdam family with no history of sailing – his father was in the clothing business – by the age of 10 Dijkstra was devouring sailing books, especially those about the great age of the clipper ships. At 14 he had his own boat, a four-metre BM, which he restored and in which he learnt the rudiments of wind and water.
He had not set out to become a naval architect. At 18 he was studying aeronautics at Delft University, until a head injury in his second year during a rugby match put paid to an academic career. A year later he was a deckhand on a Southern Ocean Shipyard-built Gallant 53, and in 12 months he went from deckie to skipper of a second Gallant and was chartering in the Caribbean.
For a decade or so he was a complete professional racing sailor, proficient in both single-handed and fully crewed racing. Determined to find further success, he penned his first yacht design, a single-handed transatlantic racer named Bestevaer. The yacht featured in the entry lists of nearly every single-handed race in the calendar, but he still found time to study naval architecture under his mentor, Professor Geritsma, at his old university.
Eventually, Dijkstra parlayed his skills into a career culminating in one of the world’s most successful yacht design firms, Dykstra Naval Architects. Founded in 1969, and now led by chief executive Thys Nikkels, the award-winning team at Dykstra is comprised of passionate sailors and designers who have worked on the world's most prolific builds and refits.
One of Dijkstra's greatest achievements came in 1989 when Thomas Sopwith's 39.56 metre Endeavour, which had been laid up and long forgotten, was revealed to the world after a five-year rebuild under the eye of her rescuer Elizabeth Meyer. Dykstra Naval Architects has been called upon to complete the redesign, which kickstarted a J-Class revival. Endeavour was shortly followed by other rebuilds, by which point the Dykstra Naval Architects had become a purveyor of the J-Class.
Dijkstra is also heralded as pioneer of the DynaRig (or FalconRig) seen on the 88 metre Perini Navi Maltese Falcon and Oceano's 107 metre Black Pearl. Inspired by 19th-century clippers, the idea was originated by a German engineer Wilhelm Prölss in the 1960s, as an alternative means of propulsion for commercial ships. The concept was never destined for a sailing yacht, which is what makes Dijkstra's vision so revolutionary.
He pitched the unusual square rig to venture capitalist Tom Perkins who had started a project with Perini Navi and it became the premise for Maltese Falcon. It was a Herculean project that began with a two-year feasibility and devoured more than 90,000 design and development hours. Maltese Falcon was launched in 2006 with its three unstayed, computer-steered, rotating carbon masts.
Now, in his “retirement”, Dijkstra is studying how best to apply sail power to commercial ships, using his work on the DynaRig and the tall-ship clipper Stad Amsterdam. He is also working on the development of his new private yacht, currently being build at our shipyard KM Yachtbuilders. The Bestevaer 36 S/Y is our smallest and most sustainable Bestevaer yet, which makes it the most challenging Bestevaer design process to date. You can follow our journey in bringing this little super yacht to life right here. Or watch the first part of our documentary series covering the build of the 36 S/Y from idea to launch.